Hughes does it for Daron
By AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency
Clara Hughes of Canada starts the time trial women's elite event at the UCI World cycling championships in Copenhagen September 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
Last year, when Clara Hughes crashed early in the Chrono Gatineau time trials, she didn't have to look too far to find the inspiration to climb back on the bike.
She looked to her wrist and the purple band bearing the phrase, "Do It For Daron."
"When I crashed at the only part of the course where people were watching, it was really embarrassing and it really hurt, but when I got back on my bike I looked down and saw the bracelet, I said 'I gotta do it for that girl and for her memory.' She really inspired me that day," said Hughes.
Hughes, an 18-time Canadian national champion cyclist who has a chance to become this country's most decorated Olympian -- her six medals ties her with former speed skating teammate Cindy Klassen -- has a special connection to the Richardson family.
Despite the crash, Hughes finished first in last year's time trials, and dedicated the win to Daron's memory. She's since become close with Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson and his wife Stephanie.
"They're awesome people, what they're doing for young people in terms of raising awareness for youth mental health issues and suicide prevention is outstanding," she said. "I don't know how they do it."
Battling depression early in life, Hughes has since become an outspoken advocate for youth mental health awareness as the face of the Let's Talk campaign.
"I love being able to connect what I do to young people, exposing this beautiful sport to young people, but moreso than being an athlete, it's the idea of living with goals and dreams and having something to live for that you love. When you have that idea and grasp it, it can pull you out of anything."
Hughes shared Daron's story with her teammates, racing for the Specialized Lululemon team at Saturday's Chrono Gatineau and Monday's main event, the Grand Prix. All five will be wearing the purple bracelets this time around.
"We are all dedicating our races this weekend to Daron's memory and to the D.I.F.D. foundation," she said.
Andree Steel, president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, said she was "honoured and excited" by the dedication.
"When people like Clara and her teammates are willing to show their support for mental health so clearly and so openly, it can only help to show our youth that mental illness isn't something to hide in the shadows," said Steel. "I think that youth as well as their parents can relate to Clara and be inspired by the strength that she has shown in her own struggles with mental illness. At its core, D.I.F.D. is about creating awareness and inspiring conversations about youth mental health and we thank Clara for helping us in that mission."
Despite the intense focus on preparation for the 2012 London Olympics at her U.S.-based training facility, Hughes applauded Canada's first national mental health strategy when it was unveiled earlier this month.
"It makes me realize how important Let's Talk is," she said. "It's really helped break down the stigma attached to mental illness and it's something that I stand for proudly and vocally, and I will continue to do so as long as I live, because things need to change for Canadians. It's unacceptable the conditions people have to deal with when they're ill."